How to Start Your Own Photography Business

First, you'll need the right equipment. See more camera stuff pictures.

Many people find photography to be a fun and fulfilling hobby, so it only makes sense that some try to make a career out of it. In 2008, about 152,000 photographers were employed in the United States in fields as varied as photojournalism, portrait photography and aerial photography [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics]. While some of these workers have full-time jobs with private corporations, government agencies and other entities, more than half -- or about 94,000 -- are self-employed freelance or studio photographers [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics]. This number may seem high, but it represents only a small percentage of photographers that have tried to make a living with their craft. Given the competitive nature of this field, it's important that you thoroughly educate yourself about how best to start your own photography business.

Self-employed photographers can make money in a variety of ways. Perhaps the most traditional approach is to open a photography studio, an enterprise created soon after Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce captured the first image from his workroom window in 1826. For many years studio photographers made portraits in-house, but a growth in the popularity of outdoor portraits has drawn many of them into the field. People also hire studio photographers to shoot functions like school dances, sporting events and ever-lucrative weddings.


Another way photographers can earn an income is by freelancing. This involves taking pictures of anything and everything -- from everyday objects to breaking news events -- and selling them to stock photo companies, magazines and even national postcard firms. Like studio photographers, freelancers can also earn money at weddings and other events, though they must work harder to gain this clientele as they're typically lesser known in the community.

Owning your own photography business can be a fun and rewarding career, and with the right plan you can make that dream a reality. The following sections offer some general advice for starting a photography business, from equipment suggestions to tips for getting the operation rolling. If you're ready to turn your favorite hobby into your beloved profession, click over to the next page.


Equipment Needed for a Photography Business

If you want to be a professional photographer, you'll need professional-quality gear. These days, that gear has to be digital. In recent years, digital equipment has come to dominate the market, thanks to its high-quality image capture and versatile processing and editing options. Though a few photographers and their customers still appreciate the novelty of film, fields like publishing, commercial photography and stock have little or no interest in the format. With this in mind, your best bet is to purchase digital equipment for every step of the process: capture, image browsing, image editing, storage and output.

For capturing images, a digital camera is an obvious purchase, but there are several other products that are important to buy as well. If photography is your hobby, you probably already have a good digital SLR camera. It should feature a fairly high resolution sensor, but don't get too hung up on megapixels -- eight or 10 will probably do just fine. Of course, the camera is useless without a lens. Start out with a wide to short telephoto zoom lens and a short-to-medium telephoto zoom lens; these will work well for basic studio and wedding photography. Because light is such an important part of photography, you also need to invest in flashes and meters to measure and add light if needed.


Image capture is only the first step of digital photography; you need equipment to view, edit, store and print your pictures after you take them. All of these tasks require that you have a relatively powerful computer with a high-quality monitor. Many photographers pay a little more to buy Apple (Macintosh) computers because they perform exceptionally well when processing and displaying digital photography. To view and organize your photographs, try Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture. These can also perform simple edits, making your work in the digital darkroom much easier. For advanced picture editing, no program is more popular than Adobe Photoshop. In a modern professional photography business, it's critically important that you have a copy of this program and know how to use it.

Once your pictures have been edited, they have to be saved somewhere. A good rule is to save them in two places -- perhaps on your computer hard drive and an external hard drive -- and keep the two in separate locations. This should protect your data from a hard drive crash, or worse, a fire or flood. Finally, invest in a good printer. While most photographs should be sent off to a professional lab for final printing, a good wax, thermal, laser or even inkjet printer is an invaluable tool for displaying proofs to clients.

Having the proper equipment is just part of starting your own photography business. Read on to learn the nuts and bolts of making your operation run smoothly.


Tips for Starting a Photography Business

There are all kinds of factors to consider when starting your own photography business. If you don't know exactly what to do, you could quickly find yourself overwhelmed by the industry's fierce competition. To help keep your business profitable, it's important that you understand what training you need, what to do when you get started, and how to keep everything running smoothly.

Professional photographers come from all kinds of backgrounds. Some choose to learn the trade by being an apprentice or assistant to a more established photographer. Others go to school at a two-year tech program or liberal arts college. Jobs in a camera store or chain studio can also prepare a person for a career as a professional photographer. Anyone with decent training and a good eye for photography can potentially make a career of it.


Getting started is perhaps the most complicated part of owning your own photography business. First, you must decide what your niche is going to be. Will you have a studio or will you freelance? Will you market yourself to the public, or focus on selling to publications or stock companies? Will you specialize in people, landscape or objects?

Next, you should create a business plan. Put simply, this is a document that describes your business and your market, and explains how you plan to situate your business within that market; it can also be great tool to help negotiate with a loan officer for startup money. Once you have a plan, you can begin the process of making it a reality. This involves all sorts of tedious tasks: choosing a name and location for your business, getting a tax ID number, and learning when and for what services you should charge sales tax. All of this can be quite confusing, so it's a good idea to hire a CPA and attorney to help you navigate the complex system of taxes and trademarking you'll face as a photographer.

You can't relax even after your business is up and running; building and maintaining relationships with clients and corporate purchasers is key to being a successful photographer. Networking with other photographers is a great way to gain client referrals, learn trade secrets, or even find a mentor to guide you in your early years. However, you can't rely completely on others to market your business. Keep an updated portfolio and consider posting some of it on a custom-built Web site or on social media sites like Facebook. You could even do some pro bono photography at a local charity event. These efforts will help your community -- and possible clientele -- get to know your work.

Armed with the proper equipment and a prudent plan, you could soon be making money with every click of the shutter.


Lots More Information

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More Great Links

  • Photography Business: DPhotoJournal
  • Profit Center: Professional Photographer Magazine

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  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2009: 27-4021 Photographers." Occupational Employment Statistics. May 14, 2010. (Jan. 21, 2011)
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Photographers." Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition. Dec. 17, 2009. (Jan. 21, 2011)
  • Cribb, Larry. "How You Can Make $25,000 a Year with Your Camera (No Matter Where You Live)." Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 1991.
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